COLUMBIA — A group of about six MU divers is seated on mats, scattered about before dry-land practice begins. Greg DeStephen plops down in the middle, right in time to hear, “This is what your pike looks like!”
Turning, DeStephn sees freshman Dante Jones laughing as he comically distorts himself in what should be a straight-legged diving position. “What? No!” DeStephen, a sophomore, protests.
“Yeah, that’s what it looks like.” Jones’ response draws laughter from the others.
“Well, yours looks like this ...” DeStephen draws his knees up to his chest, squints his eyes and juts his bottom lip out. The divers all laugh as coach Jamie Sweeney yells for practice to begin.
It’s a friendly rivalry between DeStephen and his fellow divers.
“There’s a bit of a rivalry,” Sweeney said. “At this elite level, you’re not just competing against the other team. Whether they’re on your team or not, you want to beat the other divers.”
Senior David Boyko confirms the extra competitiveness.
“We compete a lot within our team, whether anyone talks about it or not,” Boyko said.
DeStephen was quick to clarify, saying that though having an MU diver win remains paramount, winning it all always remains in the back of his mind.
DeStephen, in addition to battling his teammates on the diving board, has had to compete with his fellow divers for media time as well. Much of the attention directed at the MU diving team has drifted to Jones, a Columbia native, and junior Kendra Melnychuk, both of whom have been profiled in newspaper features.
Sweeney said he doesn’t know why DeStephen hasn’t garnered more attention. Last year, as a freshman, DeStephen, along with Boyko, became only the second and third MU male divers to qualify for the NCAA championships. But DeStephen saw the lack of recognition as a motivator.
“It makes me work a little harder to get the spotlight back on me,” DeStephen said.
DeStephen’s attitude has come a long way since he was a freshman. Sweeney saw DeStephen dive in high school while recruiting him out of Columbus, Ohio, and said DeStephen could be intimidated.
“Last year, he could do an unbelievable dive and then really mess up the next one,” Sweeney said. “We had to get him stronger and raise his self-confidence. I knew his consistency would go up; that was our main focus this past year.”
As DeStephen has developed, Sweeney knows he can count on him to motivate the rest of the team.
“I have a number of talented male divers on this team, and Greg is constantly raising the bar,” Sweeney said. “These other guys try to chase him down, and he gives them something to shoot for ... Being at the NCAAs is a whole different level of diving, and Greg and David are the only two that know how you have to train for that.”
Jones said he uses DeStephen and Boyko as “stepping stones so I can keep excelling.”
DeStephen is aiming toward the Big 12 Championships and then the NCAA Championships, where he hopes to reach the national 3-meter final. But every time he gets on the board, DeStephen has a greater goal in his sights — DeStephen is competing against history as well.
“Evan’s still the best Mizzou has ever had,” Sweeney said of Evan Waters, the Tigers’ 1-meter and 3-meter record-holder who graduated in 2006. “But to think where Greg is as a sophomore, I don’t know how much longer that’ll stay that way. That’s what we’ve been training for.”
“If I keep working as hard as I have been and keep progressing, I will be one of the best when I leave here,” DeStephen said.